Friday, July 27, 2012

Stubs - Total Recall (1990)

TOTAL RECALL (1990) Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman. Based on story by Philip K. Dick. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Produced by Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna. Run Time: 113. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy.

As with any Hollywood summer, 2012 has its fair share of remakes, sequels and reboots. The latest in this is a remake of Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell. While I’m not planning on seeing this remake, I did think it would be an opportunity to take a second look at the original.

Prior to being Governor of California and fathering kids with the family maid, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a body-builder turned actor. A savvy businessman, Schwarzenegger built his muscles into becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. By 1990, Schwarzenegger was big enough to demand and receive $10,000,000 and 15% of the gross, as well as approval over the production team, screenplay, cast and promotion for his part in Total Recall.

I remember at the time I saw this in a theater that I liked it and I was a little disappointed at how poorly it seemed to age in twenty-two years. To begin with this was one of the last major films to rely on miniatures for the special effects, something that is now predominately done with CGI; hence the long credits at the end of any big budget movie nowadays. There is also a lot of nightmare fuel in the film thanks to the makeup and prosthetics used for mutants. Again, some of these effects are frankly done better these days and again with CGI.

But what actually has held together better is the story. Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker living in the year 2084. Things seem to be going well for Quaid. His job, though menial, lets him take advantage of his huge muscles and allows him to live comfortably with his hot wife, Lori (Sharon Stone). Things are good, too good. At night Quaid keeps thinking about Mars, a planet that he has never been to. Lori tries to get him to stop thinking about it, but Quaid can’t shake it.

On his way to work one day, he sees an ad for a service called Rekall, which will plant memories in your mind, so that you can remember vacations that you actually never take. Quaid is fascinated by the idea and discusses it with one of his friends at work, Harry (Robert Costanzo). Harry tries to dissuade Quaid from going to Rekall, but he is still curious. One day after work he goes and signs up for a trip to Mars with espionage bent to it. But while they are planting the memory in his brain, he becomes violent. Rekall manages to sedate him, wipe out his memory of coming there and sends him home in an automated cab, called a Johnny Cab in the movie.

But as soon as Douglas gets out of the cab, he is confronted by a gun toting Harry and a couple of goons, who plan on killing him. However, Douglas manages to turn the tables on them and kills them all. Back home, Lori also turns on him, telling him that their eight year marriage was only a memory implant. She tries and fails to kill him. He knocks her out and escapes just ahead of Richter (Michael Ironside) and other armed men. Richter turns out to be Lori’s real husband and is working for Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), the governor of Mars. It is clear that Richter is able to track Quaid, but Quaid doesn’t know how.

He runs to a hotel, where he is almost immediately contacted by a mysterious man who advises him to wrap a wet towel around his head and who leaves a mysterious suitcase for him. Quaid picks up the suitcase, but is only steps ahead of Richter. Stealing a Johnny Cab, Quaid drives out of town to an apparently abandoned cement factory. There he goes through the contents of the suitcase, which contains money, food, gadgets and a video player.

On the video, Quaid, calling himself Hauser, instructs himself on how to remove the tracking device, which he pulls out of his skull through his nose. This is also the first visual effect that didn’t age well, as there is obviously a prosthetic make up being used, since the tracking device is obviously too big to be pulled out through a nostril. Hauser explains to Quaid that he used to work for Cohaagen, but has information about a Martian artifact that forced him to wipe his own memory to protect himself. Hauser’s advice for Quaid is to get to Mars and meet Kuato, the leader of the Mars resistance against Cohaagen.

Per Hauser’s instructions, Quaid checks into the Hilton hotel and follows clues left by Hauser to Venusville, a red light district filled with clairvoyant mutants and a three-breasted hooker (Lycia Naff), as well as a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant. Quaid is taken by Benny, a cab driver with five children to support. At the bar, he meets Melina (Rachel Ticotin), the woman literally of his dreams. Melina was Hauser’s girlfriend, but she wants nothing to do with Quaid now.

Back at his hotel, Quaid is first approached by Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith), who claims to be the President of Rekall. He tells Quaid that he is not on Mars, but is living out the memory implant, even with the espionage side-story. He tries to use Lori, who is just outside the door to convince Quaid to take a red pill to get him out of the dream state he’s in. But Quaid notices that Dr. Edgemar is sweating, so he kills him. Richter arrives with more armed thugs and they manage to subdue Quaid. But Melina arrives and saves Quaid and kills Lori.

Benny takes Quaid and Melina back to Venusville just ahead of Richter’s men. They escape into the tunnels. When Richter can’t find Quaid, Cohaagen orders the ventilation be turned off in Venusville to force cooperation. Quaid, Melina and Benny are taken to a rebel complex and Quaid is taken to see Kuato. Kuato is, naturally, a mutant, attached to the stomach of his brother George (Marshall Bell). Kuato is also clairvoyant and reads Quaid’s mind. He tells Quaid that the artifact is a reactor that, if activated, will turn the turbinium in the mines into breathable air. Coohagen’s men, led by Benny, burst in and kill Kuato and most of the resistance.

Cohaagen takes Quaid and Melina under his control and shows them a video of Hauser revealing that this has all been part of the master plan to get close to and to kill Kuato to end the resistance. He orders that Hauser’s memory be reimplanted into Quaid, but before that happens, Quaid and Melina escape. They run and hide in the mines, where they fight off and kill Richter and his men. But Cohaagen is waiting for them in the control room of the reactor. There is a gunfight, which blows out one of the walls sucking Cohaagen, Quaid and Melina out into the vacuum of the Mars atmosphere. But on his way out, Quaid manages to set off the reactor. While Cohaagen dies of asphyxiation, Melina and Quaid last long enough to breath in the fresh air of Mars. And every one in Venusville is saved.

Not a bad story, really, though the science doesn’t really hold water or in this case air. While asphyxiation is shown as we expect it to look, this isn’t what would happen in the vacuum of space. But then again, what would you expect from a sci-fi movie.

There is a cheap feel to the movie, as if a $50 to 60 million budget didn’t go very far back then. Maybe it’s the aging of the movie itself, but the sets look flimsy and the mutant make up a tad overdone, as if more was better than good. The prosthetic make up doesn’t look believable, either. In the scene where Quaid goes to Mars dressed like a woman, when the fake mask malfunctions, the head underneath it looks like a prosthetic Schwarzenegger. And the cars of the future look poorly designed. Why would a car driven by the torso of a robot need a steering wheel and accelerator?

Some of the special effects are pointless, as when the electric Johnny Cab blows up and catches fire when it crashes. It doesn’t appear that anyone really tried too hard to think about what the world and Mars would look like in 2084, other than a slightly more advanced and cheaper looking present.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score doesn’t seem to be quite right, either. The prolific composer tries too hard to make you think this is an important movie and therefore the score is too over blown for this piece of sci-fi fluff. The acting’s not bad, but there isn’t really anything remotely approaching Shakespeare here, though there are a few good lines sprinkled throughout.

For the most part, the movie is like cotton candy; enjoyable while it melts away in your mouth, but when it’s over there was really not much to it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves

At last we have come to the final game in the current Sly Cooper trilogy, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, originally released the year following Sly 2. Within this short time frame, some changes have been made to the Sly Cooper formula, which may either help or detract from the experience depending on your perspective. As a whole though, though it nicely ends Sucker Punch's run on the series, it isn't my favorite thieving adventure.

Sly Cooper and the gang have reached Kaine Island, on which sits the Cooper Vault, containing the Cooper family fortune that has been built up over several generations of thieving activity. Once Sly finally reaches the vault, he opens it, only to be stopped by Dr. M, who happens to own the island. Furious, Dr. M, having plugged himself into one of his experimental creatures, grabs hold of Sly and attempts to crush him. As this happens, Sly begins to think back on what led him to this point in time...

The remainder of the story is told primarily through flashback, retaining the heavier tone set up by the second game while still having a few lighthearted moments to offset it. There are some rather interesting plot twists to be found along the way, and some old faces show up from the first two games to help (or hinder) you along the way. As with before, the villains that the team must face are actually pretty interesting, and while they may not be likable, they are no less memorable. The overall experience still manages to have some of that Saturday morning feel to it, which again isn't really a bad thing.

The level design of Sly 2 is retained here, with the exception of the clue bottles from previous entries. I found the absence of this feature somewhat odd, since their inclusion encouraged exploration throughout each world in the previous game. Regardless, I got somewhat used to this as I kept playing. In its stead there are a few times where you have to search for a number combination within a painting, with the assistance of a magnifying glass of course, although it quickly gets to the point where it seems they didn't even try to cleverly hid the numbers.

Like with the last game, some changes have been made to the gameplay. For instance, whenever you pickpocket a valuable item from a guard, the amount the item is worth is automatically added to your coin total instead of having to go back to the Safehouse and selling it off through ThiefNet, which admittedly helps the game go by faster. Other features include safe cracking, in which you unlock a safe by turning a lock and feeling controller vibrations; and wearing a disguise to get around certain areas, though if a guard sees you, you must repeat a password given to you by Bentley.

Much like the last installment, you have the ability to play as Sly, Bentley, or Murray at any given time, though in certain mission you are able to use even more characters, including Carmelita (though these are in the guise of Sly/Bentley/Murray missions). Each of these characters has their own unique playstyle, which adds more variety to the gameplay presented and allows each mission to get a little more creative. However, it sometimes becomes apparent that Bentley has gained somewhat more bloodlust between games, as some of the missions involve murder (ex. feeding guards to a crocodile in order for it to chase other guards out of an area).

Continuing the trend from the first two games, Carmelita Fox once again changes voice actresses, this time being voiced by Ruth Livier. I didn't have too much of a problem with this voice, though at times she sounds sort of nasally, which can get a little grating. In the end I thought her performance was okay, it's just not my favorite Carmelita voice.

While I did actually have a good time with this game, there were a few things that bogged down the experience for me. At a later point in the game, there is a pirate themed stage that introduces new gameplay concepts, including treasure hunting and ship combat. While I understand the need for variety in a game, I think the stuff in the pirate stage feels like a little too much and only serves to introduce players to a multiplayer mode and another bit of extra gameplay (more on that later). On the other hand, the ship combat does prove to be an excellent source of coins.

Another point I want to address involves said coins. This time around there's even more abilities that you can purchase through ThiefNet for Sly, Bentley, and Murray, but at the same time it also gets more and more expensive. This can lead to hours of grinding simply to get that new button combination (for Sly) or another fire-related ability (for Murray). Because of this, I decided to forego grinding during my last run-through, which made the game go by much faster and allowed me to absorb the story more. This also allowed me to weigh my ThiefNet options and think about whether or not the ability I was about to purchase would actually be useful. (In essence, I wholly recommend not grinding.)

The game also has extra missions that can be done once a section is over, adding replay value in place of the clue bottles. However, it is possible to quickly lose interest in these side quests, since completing all of them essentially requires you to play the game twice in order to get 100% completion, whereas in Sly 2 you could easily get full completion in a single run.

Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves also introduces a couple new features to the Sly Cooper series, one of them being 3D functionality, namely analog 3D (the one with the cheap red/blue glasses). There are only a few sections that use this function, and soon you figure out why: while it works really well, especially in a dark room, it can cause minor eye strain after an extended session. Whether or not this is worth it depends on the player, but I would still give it praise since it really gives you a feeling of depth.

The other new feature to the series is local multiplayer, which accommodates two players. The modes you'll find here are simple in nature, including hacking, plane combat, the aforementioned ship combat and Cops and Robbers; in Cops and Robbers, two players (one as Sly, the other as Carmelita) must compete to get 5 points, Sly by stealing items and Carmelita by hunting Sly. Of the mutliplayer modes that I explored, I personally found the Cops and Robbers one to be the most exciting, since it was the most unique.

Extra features aside, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is a good way to cap off Sucker Punch's run on the Sly Cooper series. It has a compelling story that hits the right marks for a Sly Cooper title and there is some good variety in the gameplay, though some of the new elements can sometimes get in the way. Regardless, it is a game that Sly fans must have in their collection, especially since it ends with a lead-in to Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.

How good will it be? Only time will tell...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

With the release of the very highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises on Friday, what has become known as The Dark Knight Saga is now complete. Over the course of the past seven years, Christopher Nolan has been able to make Batman into a box office hit, creating new hype for and awareness of the comic book movie. Being the box office hits that they are, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have been highly praised by both critics and moviegoers alike and have reached some memetic status across the internet, especially the latter film. After watching the previous releases again, I was able to view the final installment this morning; while the end result is a well made movie, I did end up finding some problems with it.

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his identity as Batman and the Dent Act has significantly lowered the crime rate in Gotham City. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) meanwhile keeps the conspiracy created at the end of the previous film to himself, believing that Gotham is not ready for the truth, also promoting officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in order to gain his assistance. However, Bruce's retirement and Gotham's peace are about to come to an end thanks to the appearances of the master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a mysterious terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy).

To get my praises out of the way, I'd like to first speak about the acting. Christian Bale and Gary Oldman continue to put out great performances that show exactly why they were picked for the role, Batman voice aside. In the film they are both shown at first as being in a state of crisis, which they portray really well while continuing this level of acting throughout their recoveries and later roles. Morgan Freeman is also still great as Lucius Fox, providing Batman with new gadgets that end up helping him greatly in overcoming his latest nemesis. This character is still a good source of lightheartedness, giving a little balance to the otherwise dark picture.

The new actors also give solid onscreen performances. Anne Hathaway is a good fit for Selina Kyle, playing the character's cunning and charm with enough grace that makes her screen time very satisfying to watch, backed by great chemistry between her and Bale. I also thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt did well enough for his character, though I'm not sure I feel the same way about Tom Hardy as Bane. While his acting wasn't bad at all, there were some outside problems that prevented him from shining through completely; more on that a little later.

What always impresses me is Batman's gear. His ever-expanding arsenal gets a couple of upgrades this time around, including a brand new vehicle that fills the shoes of the Batplane very nicely. The additions to his combat weapons and disruption tactics are impressive and his fighting prowess is improved by what he now has. What gets me every time though is seeing the Batpod, a motorcycle originally ejected from the Batmobile previously, in action; I'm delighted whenever I see the wheels spin to the side for the extra maneuverability. Overall, the designs and implementation of each vehicle or gadget is of very high quality and excellence.

At this point, I should acknowledge again that while the film was good, there were some things that held it back from perfection. One contributing factor comes from the film's running time. Clocking in at nearly three hours, making it the longest theatrically-released English-language color superhero movie in history, this movie is long and feels that way too. The pacing could get a bit slow, almost to a crawl at some points, causing me to look at my watch and wonder when the next scene would happen. With all the dialogue and stuff going on, I'll also admit to zoning out for a few seconds in a couple of scenes and thinking about something else. I feel that if the movie was paced a little bit quicker, I might have had a tighter focus on the events.

This brings me to my next point, which would be the sound. While the sounds themselves, including music and dialogue, were all good, there was a bit of a problem with the mixing. Sometimes the music would be mixed too high, causing me to miss some potentially important dialogue from the various characters. This problem I believe hit Bane the hardest, which is that outside problem I previously mentioned. While Bane at times can already be incomprehensible, whoever was in charge of the sound must have decided that Hans Zimmer's score was more important, thus sometimes rendering the character completely inaudible. This affects other characters as well, but it really robs Tom Hardy of some of his superb acting ability, and thus Bane of some of his power.

While I'm still talking about Bane, I also believe that he may have been a little mishandled in the final product.  I almost didn't really see the point of giving him a ventilation mask, seeing as how in at least the Arkham games he does not possess this handicap. To top it off, the film focuses on him to be a major threat to the dark knight, with truly twisted ideals that make him worthy of Christopher Nolan's vision. However, his character arc near the end is concluded in a way that felt very anticlimactic to me, though the reasons are particularly spoileriffic (if you've seen the film already: it's the part where he is suddenly replaced by Talia al Ghul, thus demoting him to just another mook, and then having both of them be killed off rather unceremoniously, Bane with Batpod missiles and Talia through a car crash).

Then there's the transition from the events of The Dark Knight to this movie. While I understand that The Joker is not in this one out of respect to Heath Ledger, the fact that he doesn't even get a passing mention almost makes the entirety of the previous movie completely pointless, save for the fact that Harvey Dent is somewhat pivotal here. In fact, there are so many call backs and references to the first movie that going from Batman Begins to this one feels like a much better transition (I also say this due to the fact that, due to circumstances outside my control, I watched The Dark Knight and then Batman Begins when catching up).

This next point relates a little to the pacing, but the movie is good at introducing some plot points and scenes and then leaving them hanging. While not quite as bad at it as The Amazing Spider-Man, I did feel that a couple of scenes could probably have been cut without affecting the overall build of the movie. Even then though, the ending felt a little rushed and still left some things unexplained while simultaneously hinting at future adventures that may never be filmed. In some ways the film suffers from the same problem that affected The Dark Knight: it had too much plot. The only difference this time of course is that it also manages to reduce the caped crusader himself to a bit part in his own movie, since he has very little screen time compared with literally everyone else.

Before I end my review, I feel it necessary to mention a recent tragedy that now unfortunately is forever connected with this movie. At the midnight premiere in Aurora, Colorado, a man went into a theater armed with sophisticated armor and weaponry and proceeded to massacre some of those in attendance. While he has been arrested, the pain of this awful turn of events cannot be erased so easily. I initially thought about this event during my showing, not helped by the fact that the exit door was open most of the movie, but as it went on, I was able to feel safe where I was and enjoy the movie itself. Still, my thoughts go out to the families of the victims of the shooting and I wish them a brighter tomorrow.

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises, while having the qualities of a good Batman movie, does not reach over the bar set by its predecessor. The sound mixing and overall pacing are more of a detriment and it could have been better about not only tying the trilogy together, but also its own loose ends. Fans of The Dark Knight Saga are encouraged to watch this for some (somewhat mishandled) closure, as well as those who want to see what all the hype is about. It's not on the same level as The Avengers, but it's a movie worth watching nonetheless.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stubs - The Dark Knight

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Based on characters by Bob Kane. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, and Charles Roven. Run Time: 152. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Comic Book.

I will admit while I’ve seen this film at least three times, I’m a little at a loss to explain why this was such a runaway hit when it was first released, bringing in more than a billion dollars worldwide. It is very dark and a little long for my tastes, but obviously not for a vast majority of moviegoers.

Let me start out by acknowledging the obvious: Heath Ledger’s Joker was one of the highlights of the movie. It was not a performance I would have expected from Ledger, but it points to what should have been a remarkable career. Ledger’s death prior to the film’s release makes the loss of that potential even sadder.

But while Ledger’s performance is mesmerizing, the film isn’t always. And there are plot holes that you could drive a big yellow school bus through. The Joker is depicted as a loner against the well-established mobs in Gotham City, but he has to be one of the most well-organized of all criminals ever. His plans are always flawless, not just in their set up and execution, but also in the anticipation of how people will react to the obstacles he places before them.

A prime example of that is the sequence involving transporting D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who claims to be Batman, from the City to County Jail. That motorcade is doomed from the start as the police fail to secure the route and then make one dumb decision after another. But The Joker is ready with not only a willing legion of big truck drivers and rigs but also with machine guns and bazookas. And when the police decide to abandon the route, the Joker seems to have anticipated that as well, down to the street they would use, etc.

In addition to his prowess of planning, he seems to have an endless legion of minions, even after he kills off the first group of accomplices in the bank robbery that opens the film. Doesn’t word of that sort of thing spread through the underground of gangsters?

The Joker’s crew though isn’t limited to hoods but includes truck drivers and policemen. You have to wonder how someone that burns all their money can afford to keep such a criminal enterprise going. But apparently, a guy that claims not to plan things out is omnipresent. He knows which policewoman has a mother in the hospital, while at the same time has the time to plant explosives on two separate ferries leaving Gotham. And in addition to being everywhere, no one ever seems to see him doing any of that setup.

Take for example the opening. The Joker makes his escape on a school bus by driving it through the wall of a bank building and getting in line with other school buses which happen to have space enough for his. Either all the other school bus drivers are in on the heist or the bus driver behind him doesn’t think it’s worth calling in the incident that had taken place right in front of him. Either way I find it hard to believe, even in the context of a comic-based world that no one notices a guy with green hair, white face makeup, and red lipstick.

If anything, The Dark Knight suffers from almost too much plot. The battle between Batman and The Joker wasn’t enough, so they throw in, almost wedging it in, the story of Two-Face, Harvey Dent disfigured after being burned in a Joker plot that also kills off Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Someone who had been a crusader against criminals blames Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldham) for his losses, rather than the Joker, who he is even in a position to kill at one point, but off-screen doesn’t and for no explanation.

Another thing that perplexes me is the major change that Gotham has gone through between Batman Begins and this movie. Even though three years have passed since the first film’s release, Batman Begins ends by setting up this film, which suggests the action in Dark Knight is a continuation. In the meantime, Gotham City has gone through a radical change and doesn’t look like it used to. How can that be explained? And it bothered me that every public building seemed to be new and modern. Gotham’s big General Hospital seems too new and too small for the city it’s supposed to serve. 

Usually, old General hospitals are large, marble structures dating back from the WPA days. But Gotham’s is only about four stories tall and looks much more modern. Apparently, Gotham City doesn’t suffer from any of the infrastructure problems every other major city has, where public buildings are used until they fall down. Gone too is the mass transit system from Batman Begins as well as Arkham Asylum. I think what made these changes stand out for me so much was an extra on the Batman Begins Blu-ray that discusses designing Gotham and the care they took in doing so. In this movie, all that planning seems to have been thrown out. For me, at least, it was jarring.

Getting back to the acting, Christian Bale is a good choice to play Bruce Wayne and Batman, with the exception of being Batman’s voice. In this film, as well as in the first, the voice is so different as to be almost comical. Obviously, Bale is trying to distinguish his Batman voice from his Bruce Wayne, but when you see the effort being made, some of the magic is lost. What’s worse is that Howard Wollowitz (Simon Helberg) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on TV’s Big Bang Theory can both make the same voice.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is an acting upgrade from Katie Holmes, who played Rachel in the first movie, but she is not as pretty as her predecessor. Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) put in solid performances as minor though important characters in the first two (and presumably the third film as well). The rest of the supporting cast, including Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) all put in good showings.

The Dark Knight has all the makings of a good movie: An accomplished director, well-known comic book characters to build on and a great bit of acting from Heath Ledger. However, it goes on too long and tries to wedge in too much story. After a while, the viewer finds himself waiting for the movie to be over, which is never a good sign. Having not seen the third and final Nolan directed feature, I think this trilogy could have made five movies, rather than three.

The Dark Knight is available at the WB Shop:

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Batman Begins

This weekend marks the opening to the final installment of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Saga, a trilogy of highly-praised Batman films. As a lead-in to it, I have decided to watch the first film from 2005, Batman Begins, again after having last seen it years ago. Since I first saw it when I was younger, I couldn't really get a full grasp of the plot, but now that I am a bit older I was able to follow it this time, and I can say that this is a good start to the trilogy.

Being the first movie in a trilogy, much of the plot is essentially Batman's origin story, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The events leading up to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) becoming the caped crusader we all know  are told intriguingly as we see his evolution from a boy with a fear of bats to someone who utilizes that fear in order to stop crime. Christian Bale does a good job showcasing that the death of Bruce's parents at a young age has really affected the character, though his Batman voice could use some work. Sometimes Bruce and Batman share a voice, which is perfectly fine, while at other times Bale uses the memetic voice that is prevalent in the sequel, The Dark Knight, which sounds like he's trying a little too hard to be menacing (in my opinion, of course).

The layout of Gotham City in this movie is unique compared to other Batman stories (including its own sequel no less), with such features as a monorail linking various parts of the city, Wayne Tower acting as the central hub. This design helps make the plan of antagonists Scarecrow (Cilliam Murphy) and Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) more inventive as they attempt to spread fear throughout the city.

On that note, I liked the way that these Batman villains were portrayed. Scarecrow was introduced in a way that seemed more realistic, which was the goal after all, and his identity as Dr. Johnathan Crane is not easily telegraphed, save for those already familiar with Batman lore. While I'm not as familiar with Ra's al Ghul as I am with other Batman villains, I liked the way his character was written here, along with the idea that his ideals of erasing evil further motivated Bruce Wayne not to kill while stopping crime.

Another thing I enjoyed about Batman Begins was the dark knight's gadgetry, particularly how he acquires it. It's interesting to see the in-universe design process that went into his iconic batsuit, not to mention how he got Morgan Freeman's character, Lucius Fox, to hand some of the technology to him, and what seems like an insane amount of time that goes into constructing a batarang. I also thought this movie's design for the Batmobile was simply amazing, like there's a sense of power you get whenever the vehicle is used. Seeing it in action is even more amazing, including one scene that shows off everything the hero's new transport can really do.

However, my only complaint about this movie is the runtime. There's a whole lot of plot to be found here, resulting in a story that seems to drag on a little longer than needed, to where, during the final act, I was mostly waiting for it to end. That's not to say the story is bad, it just went on a little long for my taste.

As I said before, Batman Begins is a great way to start off the current trilogy. It has some great action in it, actors deliver some solid performances, and the realistic approach to the Batman mythos is handled surprisingly well. If you have not yet seen any of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, this one is a great place to start; it even leads into the sequel, The Dark Knight.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Stubs - Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)

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MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941) Starring: Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson, Philip Merivale and Lucie Watson. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Produced by Harry E. Edington.  Story and Screenplay by Norman Krasna.  Music by Edward Ward. Run Time: 95. Black and White. USA. Comedy, Screwball Comedy

Perhaps the most non-Hitchcockian film Alfred Hitchcock ever made, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a serviceable, if not tremendously funny screwball comedy, starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery.

Ann (Carole Lombard) and David Smith (Robert Montgomery) are a seemingly happily married couple that live by a set of rules they have agreed to. When the film opens they are in the midst of living out one of those rules, neither can leave the bedroom after a fight until they’ve made up. This time, they have been at it for three days before they make amends. Meanwhile, David’s law partner, Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond) dispatches Sammy (William Tracy) to get some paperwork signed.

When the couple finally makes a breakthrough, Ann demands one to partake in another of their rules, number seven, wherein once a month she gets to ask him any question she wants. This time she asks him if he had to do it all over again would he marry her again. Of course this is a trap question. If a man is asked this the only appropriate answer is “Yes, of course, I would marry you.” However, David answers her with the truth, No. His reasoning is that a married man gives up too much of his freedom.

While she is upset by the answer, she lets him get to the office. Once there, he finds three days’ worth of paperwork on his desk and a very gracious partner, who seems too good to be true. But before he can get down to work, there is a man who has come to see him. Harry Deever (Charles Halton) is a representative of the small town in Idaho where the Smiths were married. He comes to tell David that the chamber of commerce has sent him to anyone married in the town after 1936, since the town was actually in Nevada and no marriage is legal in Nevada with an Idaho marriage license. Harry recommends getting remarried and returns the $2 license fee to David.

But when Harry sees Mrs. Smith’s photo, he recognizes her as Ann Krausheimer, a friend of his sister’s from back home. He tells David to give her his best and leaves. David goes to the phone and asks his wife out for dinner at the restaurant, Momma Lucy’s, they used to go to when they were dating. Unbeknownst to David, Harry finds himself passing their resident in a cab and stops to go in to see Ann. Ann is visiting with her mother (Esther Dale) when Harry drops by. He tells the two of them the story about the license.

Ann thinks David is planning a romantic evening that will end in marriage and she even dresses in the same suit she wore to their wedding. But David does not let on. The two go to dinner, but things have really changed and the pizzeria has gone downhill. Momma's is now a man and the place smells like a livery stable has been opened next door. But they are determined to make the best of things and even get the proprietor (William Edmunds) to set up a table for them outside. That is until street children stare them down and back inside the restaurant.

After an abbreviated dinner, they go home. David breaks out some champagne and Ann nearly clobbers him with the bottle. She tells David about Harry’s visit and she is convinced that David had no plans to remarry her. She kicks him out and he goes to his club, The Beefeater, where he takes a room for the night. There he runs into Chuck Benson (Jack Carson) another married man who has been banished from his home. Chuck advises David to ignore the situation and then his wife will want him back.

But that ploy backfires on David. He watches as his wife comes home from a date with a much older man, Robert Emmett Keane. The next morning, David gets into Ann’s cab on her way to work, a department store that Keane’s character manages. However, the store does not employ married women (it was a different time) and Ann is fired.

Back at work, Jefferson offers to help David out. He’s been sweet on Ann and Ann has always been sweet on her. He invites David to interrupt their dinner date at 9 that night. But when David arrives, he finds that Ann has turned Jefferson against him. Jefferson is supposedly representing Ann, whom he agrees is not legally married to David. And in front of David, Jefferson asks her out to dinner the next night.

When David returns to the Beefeater, he lets Chuck set him up on a blind date. David makes sure they’re eating at the same club Jefferson is taking Ann. David is disappointed to find out that his date is a rather crass woman, Gertie (Betty Compson). When he tries to extract himself from the evening by giving himself a bloody nose, Gertie is suddenly an expert on their remedy. This causes the commotion David had tried to avoid. Ann and Jefferson leave, with Ann suggesting they go the fair, the World’s Fair. The two get stuck on a parachute ride and when the rain comes, Jefferson gets a cold.

Ann takes Jefferson back to his apartment and tries to ply him with alcohol. But the former Alabama football player isn’t much of a drinker. After two stiff belts he is afraid of what he might do and lets Ann get herself home.

The next morning, David, who has by now given up his day job, follows Ann to his office. But instead of seeing him, Ann is in with Jefferson. Jefferson’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Custer (Philip Merivale and Lucie Watson) are visiting him on their way to a winter holiday to Lake Placid. They ask their son and his new love to join them, which they do a week later.

When they arrive at the resort, Ann and Jefferson find that his parents are off on an excursion for the day. They take a sleigh ride to their adjoining cabins, but find that David has followed them. Pretending to be frozen, Ann and Jefferson drag David into his own, also adjoining cabin, to recover. But David is only faking it, which Ann quickly discovers.

David’s deceit prompts Ann to ask Jefferson to marry her. While Jeff is happy about the prospect, he tells Ann that he only wants her happiness and if she decides that she’d rather be with David that would be okay by him. Meanwhile, David is planning on returning to New York alone.

But after dinner, Ann gets the idea of trying to make David jealous by pretending Jeff is coming on to her in her cabin. It works and David comes over to defend his wife from Jefferson’s advances. However, Jeff, who is on the ploy, is in his own cabin, listening in through the apparently very thin walls. When David gets rough with Ann, she calls for Jeff to help her. When he does, the three of them get into a heated discussion, just as the Custers return from their day trip.

They refuse to let their son marry Ann and take him back to the lodge in the last sleigh ride of the day. But Ann won’t stay near David and plans to ski to the lodge to stay the night. However, she isn’t a good skier and doesn’t even know how to put the skis on. David roughly helps her, but with the skis on, Ann is as good as trapped. David starts to undress (he takes off his tie and unbuttons his shirt) and in the end, Ann and David fall back in love.

One of Hitchcock’s first films in America, after a very successful career in the UK, it is one that he wanted to do because of his affection for Carole Lombard, who was quite the comedic star at the time. This may be the first film of hers that I have seen, at least all the way through, and I am pleasantly surprised at how good of an actress she was. Very pretty, with a good sense of timing, Lombard is very capable with the part of Ann.

In a 20 year career that dated back to silent films, Lombard appeared in a variety of films including the 1925 version of Ben Hur and a stint as a Mack Sennett bathing beauty in 1928. Transitioning to sound, Lombard made a career as a comedic actress. Her big break came in 1934’s Twentieth Century, a screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Barrymore.

Lombard, who was married briefly to William Powell, was married to Clark Gable from 1939 until her death in 1942 while on a tour selling war bonds. Mr. and Mrs. Smith would be her next to last film, the last being the comedy To Be or Not To Be (1942) opposite Jack Benny. One can only imagine what heights she might have reached if it wasn’t for her untimely death.

Robert Montgomery, her co-star in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, was originally a stage actor, who got his big break in 1930’s The Big House, directed by George W. Hill and co-starring Wallace Beery and Chester Morris. That same year he would appear with Greta Garbo in Inspiration and Norma Shearer in The Divorcee. After Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Montgomery would star in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) with Claude Raines and Evelyn Keyes. Montgomery would receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance as Joe Pendleton. After World War II, Montgomery would appear in The Expendables (1945) before directing and starring in Lady in The Lake (1947). His last film was 1960’s The Gallant Hours which he narrated and directed.

With any films like this it is always interesting to look at the supporting cast, because you’re always bound to find a familiar face in the crowds. William Tracy who played a brief part as Sammy is perhaps better known on this blog for his role as Pepi in The Shop Around the Corner. Keeping with the Christmas theme, Charles Halton (Harry Deever) was the bank examiner in It’s A WonderfulLife and played the detective in The Shop Around the Corner. And who can forget William Edmunds, here as the proprietor of the down for the count Momma Lucy’s, as Mr. Martini in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Jack Carson is also a stand out as the lovable loser Chuck, would have a memorable role in Mildred Pierce (1945) and a very successful career in Hollywood as a character actor.

What can’t be said about Alfred Hitchcock? While comedy may not be a genre people think of Hitchcock working in, his films oftentimes do display a dark, black comedic touch. After directing films in his native UK, Hitchcock came to the US in 1940 to make Rebecca for David O. Selznick. From then until Frenzy (1972), Hitchcock worked in the U.S. directing such classics as Saboteur (1942), Notorious (1946), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and  The Birds (1963).

As I wrote at the beginning of this review, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is a good film, but not a great one. Some of the humor has not lasted the test of time and some of that may be based on the premise of the film. With marriage more and more an afterthought, what may have been scandalous in 1941 America is now no big deal. However, films can’t be solely viewed by modern standards. They were made for a 1941 audience and should be viewed, as best one can, by the viewer putting themselves in that frame of mind. But doing so is very hard. Any reviewer brings their own life experience to the film.

Looking at the film through modern eyes one of the things that jumps out at me is the depiction of southerners and Jefferson Custer in particular. Family names like Jefferson and Ashley (the father’s name) suggest that the Civil War is still fresh in everyone’s minds, even though it had been over for about 75 years by the time the film was made. (Jefferson was the first name of Confederate President Davis. I may be associating Ashley with the Civil War thanks to Gone With the Wind, but so would an audience in 1941.) The Custers are depicted as having a high moral background and Jeff even lets his parents decide his marital fate, as they feel Ann is not the right woman for their son.

And Jeff’s depiction as a southern gentleman seems magnified by the production code. His over the top chivalrous behavior towards Ann, and the fact he is well groomed and does his own interior decoration, would suggest that he is at least a metro-sexual, if not gay, which I’m sure was not the intent of the filmmakers. Such is the issue of looking at a film with modern eyes.

By the standards of 1941, any film with Lombard and Montgomery was sure to be a success. While the film may not stand up as well as other films Hitchcock made during his long career, it is worth watching at least once, if only to see the one time pairing of Lombard and Montgomery.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) is available in a collection at the WB Shop:

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man - Not So Amazing

One of the best superhero movies I have seen is Spider-Man. It has a great story, good casting, and plenty of memorable moments and action scenes. After this movie became a trilogy, a reboot called The Amazing Spider-Man was announced for this year following (if I'm right) creative differences. From what I have heard about it in the time before its release, I decided to give it a try. After having just seen it, I can say that, compared to the original 2002 movie, it isn't all that spectacular.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a photographer at Midtown Science High School who is often the victim of Flash Thompson's (Chris Zylka) bullying. After Peter gets home to his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), he assists Ben with cleaning out a flooded basement. In the process, Peter comes across some science work in a case hidden by his deceased father, leading him to do some research into OsCorp, where his father worked. The next day, he gets into OsCorp under a false identity, taking a tour with a group of interns for Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), where he learns of research involving animal DNA. Breaking off from the group, he gets into a room where spiders are creating a special webbing, but soon leaves when he disrupts their work. Once he leaves the room, he feels one of the spiders bite him, changing him over time.

Before I talk about what I think of the story, I would like to discuss a couple other things about the overall product. As far as the music goes, I thought it actually helped the movie pretty well regarding the tonality of the events on screen. James Horner's score isn't exactly on the level of Danny Elfman's, who scored the original Spider-Man movie, but it still manages to do its job nicely. By itself, the acting for this reboot is also pretty good. You can really sense the chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as well as the relationships each of them has with their respective families. However, The Lizard, the antagonist of this movie, doesn't have the same level of intimidation that the Green Goblin did in the original, but on his own he comes off as an okay villain.

The story as a whole is very contrived and oftentimes too convenient, like some things are included because it could be, even if it doesn't make sense. For instance, there's a point early on where Peter is being chased by a group of thugs, during which Peter crawls up a wall with his spider powers to escape, only for the thugs to have magically teleported to the top of the building where Peter ended up (also during this scene, Peter Parker is more like Peter Parkour than Spider-Man most of the time). There's also the fact that Peter's father's work was in the basement, yet somehow it was not discovered by anyone until there was a small flood. Trying to go into any greater detail about the story would create massive spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet, so I'm going to stop right here.

Another thing about this movie requires a comparison to the original film. It seems that, while a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man is attempting to touch upon all the basic points of the first Spider-Man, since they are both origin stories, while taking a different approach. This isn't a bad idea, but the way it is handled ends up creating less of an impact with certain pivotal scenes than in the first one. For example, the death of Uncle Ben is an important event in Spider-Man's origin, so naturally it is included. However, whereas in the first movie there is an emotional scene after Ben is killed by someone Peter let run free after a robbery at a wrestling event (later retconned in Spider-Man 3), the scene is changed so that Ben is killed by someone that Peter let run free after a petty robbery, creating less of an impact in the long run; the scene is set up such that Ben's death seems to be more his own fault and not more so Peter's.

One last item I would like to touch upon is that this movie sets up a lot of things that are often left hanging, sometimes almost literally. There are several things that the movie stops to put focus on, such as a mark of blood or Peter's photography skills, that go absolutely nowhere and seem entirely pointless. During the movie there is also a subplot of Peter, as Spider-Man, trying to find the one that murdered his uncle, but by the end this is never resolved, which really bothered me. Also, there is a particular effect right before the credits that actually gets cut off, made even more disappointing when viewed in 3D.

The Amazing Spider-Man is not the Spider-Man reboot I was hoping for, given the hype surrounding it. It tries to touch on all the necessary points that the original movie made, but in the end it all falls apart. If you are a fan of the Spider-Man movies and are curious about this reboot, and/or you have kids who want to see it, I would suggest checking it out once, but otherwise this seems more like a movie to wait on for a cheap rental. However, if you are one that enjoys watching comic book movies, maybe this one will hold you over until The Dark Knight Rises.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Stubs - Spider-Man

SPIDER-MAN (2002) Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kristen Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons. Directed by Sam Raimi. Produced by Laura Ziskin, Ian Bryce, Grant Curtis, Avi Arad, and Stan Lee.  Screenplay by David Koepp. Based on characters by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Music by Danny Elfman. Run Time: 121. Color. USA. Action, Adventure

When this film was first released, Spider-Man was considered by many to be the best comic-book based movie of all time. In the past decade, the film has been eclipsed, in my eyes at least, by its sequel Spider-Man 2 (2004), Iron Man (2008) and this year’s The Avengers. Now, only ten years later, Spider-Man, like Batman and Superman before it, is rife for a reboot. With this in mind, it is a good opportunity to revisit the original film to see how Spider-Man’s origin story was handled as a way to compare how it is handled in the reboot of the franchise: The Amazing Spider-Man.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nice kid who finishes last. Peter lives with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). They love Peter, but they seem to be practically the only ones. Not only does the bus driver not stop for him, but even the nerdiest kids on the bus don’t want him to sit next to them. Peter is a photographer for the school paper who dreams of a career as a photographer. He is madly in love with the girl next door Mary Jane Watson (Kristen Dunst), who is dating one of Peter’s bullies, Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Joe Manganiello). Peter’s best friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of scientist/industrialist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe).

On a field trip to a university genetics lab, Peter, while trying to take a photo of Mary Jane, is bitten by a genetically altered, red and blue spider. The effect on Peter is that his DNA and that of the spider’s mesh creating the Spider-Man persona. At school, Peter is once again bullied by Flash, but manages not only to elude his punches, but with one punch he sends Flash across the room. So enamored with how good he feels, Peter runs from school, climbs a wall and runs across the rooftops, effortlessly leaping from roof to roof. When he finds that he can shoot a web from his own body, it takes a little doing, but soon Peter is able to control it.

With his new found powers and prowess, Peter looks for a way to impress Mary Jane. He notices how enamored she is with Flash’s car, so he vows to get one himself. Entering a contest to stay three minutes in a ring with a professional wrestler called Bonesaw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage), Peter wins the contest, but the promoter refuses to pay him the $3000 purse, because he was only in the ring for two minutes not three. When a criminal holds up the wrestling promoter of that day’s take, Peter does nothing. But when the criminal kills his Uncle for his car, Peter vows revenge and dedicates himself to being Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Oscorp is facing its own problems. The U.S. Military, the firm’s largest customer, is pushing for the super soldier it has contracted for. In an effort to speed up the development, Norman voluntarily takes the serum himself. But rather than a super soldier, a la Captain America, he is turned into a super villain, Green Goblin.

Spider-Man has been making quite a name for himself, as he flings around New York stopping petty crimes. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), editor of the Daily Bugle, a tabloid, thinks Spider-Man is a criminal, but one that sells papers. He puts in an ad looking for photographs. This is the opening Peter has been waiting for and he takes photos of himself to Jameson.

As the Green Goblin, Osborn manages to disrupt his main competitor Quest’s own program for the US Defense Department, thus leaving Oscorp as the military’s largest supplier. But while Norman is celebrating, his board of directors has been selling the company to Quest and kicking Norman out as chairman. As the Green Goblin he shows up at an Oscorp event to get his revenge, vaporizing the board of directors. He manages to nearly kill Mary Jane, who is there as Harry’s date, before Spider-Man appears on the scene.

Mary Jane starts to fall in love with Spider-Man and when he saves her from a gang of supposed rapists, she and her superhero share one of film history’s most memorable kisses.

The Green Goblin wants Spider-Man and tries to get to him through the photographer that supplies the photos to the Daily Bugle, but Jameson refuses to divulge Peter’s name. But despite that, Norman does finally discover that Peter is Spider-Man and in an effort to draw him out, the Green Goblin attacks Aunt May. While she is in the hospital recovering, Peter finally tells Mary Jane how he feels about her. Harry happens to see Peter and Mary Jane holding hands and tells his father about the love affair.

Using Mary Jane as bait, the Green Goblin lures Spider-Man to the Queensboro Bridge. There he must choose to save Mary Jane or a Roosevelt Island Tram filled with children. The Green Goblin lets both go simultaneously, but Spider-Man manages to save them both. Undaunted, the Green Goblin takes Spider-Man to a deserted warehouse where they fight to the Green Goblin’s death.

Spider-Man takes Norman’s body back to the mansion he shared with Harry. But Harry sees Spider-Man hovering over his father’s body and jumps to the conclusion that Spider-Man killed his father.

At Norman’s funeral, Mary Jane finally confesses her love for Peter. But Peter, knowing his destiny as a superhero puts those he loves in peril (see Aunt May), tells her in essence that they can only ever be friends. Because of who he is, he has to walk away from the woman he wanted since childhood.

Despite some critics who didn’t like the film, Spider-Man was a huge success on its initial release and would spawn two more sequels with the same director and cast. A lot of the credit belongs to Sam Raimi. While I will confess that I had not seen his previous films, as they never seemed to appeal to me, he is obviously more than a capable director. The pacing of the film is good and there is a good mixture of humor amongst the action.

The cast is also very good together. Despite the fact that Tobey Maguire was much older than the Peter Parker he played, he still managed to play a convincing conflicted teenager.  By the time of Spider-Man, Maguire had been in films since 1989, having appeared in such films as S.F.W. (1994), The Ice Storm (1997), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Pleasantville (1998) and The Cider House Rules (1999). His career post the Spider-Man trilogy has slowed considerably, but he is scheduled to appear in The Great Gatsby and Life of Pi.

I initially thought that Kirsten Dunst was also a little old to be playing a teenager, but it was just that she had been in films from an early age. She too had been in films since 1989, but by the time of Spider-Man she was only 20 years old. Her film debut was in New York Stories in the Oedipus Wrecks segment directed by Woody Allen. She had gone to appear in such films as Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Little Women (1994), Jumanji (1995), Wag the Dog (1997), Dick (1999), The Cat’s Meow (2001). Kirsten is cute enough to be the crush of Peter Parker’s life.

James Franco, also in his twenties at the time he filmed Spider-Man, was perhaps best known before that film as the titular character in James Dean (2001), a TV bio film. Franco seems to be perfectly cast as both Peter’s friend, but also as Willem Dafoe’s son. Franco has gone onto a very eclectic career, including starring in Pineapple Express (2008), 127 Hours (2010) and a recurring role on the soap General Hospital. He may also be remembered for his near disastrous turn at co-hosting the Academy Awards.

Willem Dafoe brought quite a lot to the character of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. Having been in films since the early 80’s, Dafoe has been a busy actor on stage and in films, appearing in numerous films. To list them all would take too long. But it is safe to say that Dafoe had made a career playing sometimes off beat as well as mainstream characters, and has worked in big films and independents as well. I’ve never heard anyone criticize him for not bringing his all to any role he’s played.

But the casting doesn’t stop with the major stars of the films. You couldn’t ask for a better Aunt and Uncle than Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson. And special merit should be called out to Bruce Campbell, not so much for his part as the wrestling announcer who gives our hero his name, but for the other roles he plays in the subsequent sequels. He brings a little bit of humor to the parts he plays in this series of films.

All that said the actor who steals the show is J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He is a throwback to the fast-talking newspapermen depicted in screwball comedies like His Girl Friday (1940). Simmons, who I had seen play the psychiatrist on numerous episodes of Law and Order, is a delight to watch as the over the top editor of a tabloid that knows a good thing when he sees it.

When making a comic book into a movie, special effects play a part. While it is sometimes very obvious that it is a special effect, such as the scene of Peter leaping from rooftop to rooftop or flinging from building to building as Spider-Man, they are mixed very well with the live action actor that it is acceptable and not jarring.

As I stated before, when Spider-Man was first released, it was number one on my list of comic-book related films. While it has slipped down that list so slightly over time, it has not diminished the movie itself. It is still a great introduction to the Spider-Man story, especially, if you’re not a fan boy of the character.

The movie is so good that it makes one worry for the reboot. Unlike the 80’s Batman cycle, which had worn out its welcome and become a joke, Spider-Man had not reached that point when the third film played out. While there is a buzz for any superhero movie, The Amazing Spider-Man has a lot to live up to, not only as part of the Spider-Man series, but because it  comes out between the fantastic The Avengers, which opened in May and the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, which opens next month.